These days, it’s typically easy to locate an old high school or college buddy, a neighbor from your childhood or just about anyone you need to reconnect with. If someone really can’t be found, it may be that they don’t want to be.
Sometimes, estate executors are unable to locate heirs or other beneficiaries of an inheritance as they oversee the administration of someone’s estate. Often, this happens because the information provided in the will or another estate plan document is incorrect and/or outdated.
If that person is a family member, other relatives generally have some information that can lead to locating them. However, sometimes, there are no other living relatives or the missing person has been long estranged from the family. If it’s not a relative, it can be even more challenging to track them down if the name in the will isn’t accurate or even if it’s misspelled.
What are your obligations to find the person?
Executors have an obligation to make a reasonable effort to locate all heirs and other beneficiaries. That involves more than reaching out to the last known phone number and address or searching through Facebook. The probate judge will likely expect some real investigation.
Some of this can be done online. There are a lot of sites where you can find information on people – sometimes for a fee. However, if the inheritance is significant, it may be necessary to bring in a professional. Some private investigators and forensic genealogists specialize in locating missing heirs. A judge may allow the probate process to continue and other assets to be distributed in the meantime.
What if the person can’t be located or it’s determined that they’re deceased? If the person whose estate you’re administering didn’t indicate what they wanted to happen to the inheritance in either of those cases, there are a number of things that can happen to the assets. It will ultimately be up to a probate judge to decide.
If you’re dealing with a missing heir or other beneficiary or other complications while administering an estate, it’s wise to seek legal guidance.